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Robert Burns Lives!
The History of The Burns Club of London: 1868 to 1968 Part II By Clark McGinn

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

A few weeks ago, thanks to my friend Jim Henderson, Honorary Secretary of The Burns Club of London, I received a copy of the history of the club’s first one hundred years. Part I of that extraordinary history, written so expertly by Clark McGinn, was placed on this web site last week, and in it we were introduced to Colin Rae Brown and learned of his significant work with London club and in the Scottish community. It is a joy to bring you Part II this week. My hat is off to these tremendous Burnsians Clark and Jim for sharing their club history with our readers. The events written in this part of the club’s history, published in 1968, cover topics our fathers and grandfathers would have been familiar with. This is a great opportunity to learn of the staggering events faced by the club during its early story, events like World Wars I and II. Keep in mind that the American Civil War had concluded just three years before the founding of the London club. When forwarding the narration by email, Jim commented, “I think you will find it interesting.” I sure did, and so will you! (FRS: 8.3.11)

The Burns Club of London
1868 – 1968

A chiel’s amang ye takin’ notes
An’ faith he’ll prent it”

As the Club ends its one hundredth year of existence thankful that in such a long period it has overcome many difficulties and now stands in a strong position, it is perhaps inevitable that in writing its history a beginning be made with a description of the London of the mid-nineteenth century which saw the birth of the Club.

Although it was a period of peace and prosperity in these islands, the international scene was clouded by the American Civil War and the aggressive Prussians laying siege to Paris. On a more lowly plane, street lighting was by gas, oil lamps and candles were in common use, and coal fires with their resultant smoke were building up London’s reputation as a fog-bound city. Public transport was by such conveyances as the hansom, the fly, the landau and the carriage. The horsedrawn bus had made its appearance to give a cheap if somewhat limited mode of transport.

Railway expansion was beginning to cover the industrial areas of the country with the result that the long-distance stage coach was being pushed out of business except in those areas where the steam locomotive and the iron rail-road had not yet appeared.

The population of the Metropolis was something like three million souls and it was, of course, much smaller in area than the present conurbation with its huge dormitory suburbs. Political events had a greater impact on the populace since sport, film, celebrities, television and radio had not yet arrived to absorb the leisure hours.

Anyway the working week was much longer in those days. The year 1868 saw the beginnings of the Commonwealth Society, the Trade Union Congress among others, and, of course, of the Burns Club of London in October.

Leading public figures included Disraeli and Gladstone, then in his first term as Prime Minister. Gentlemen belonged to clubs and social affairs for high society were in vogue. The Savage Club is of particular interest to us as several of its members were present at the 1859 Burns Centenary Celebrations in Glasgow when their host was a Mr. Colin Rae Brown, Secretary of the Centenary Festival Committee and a native of Greenock where he had been President of the local Burns Club in 1843.

Founder and proprietor of the Glasgow newspaper “Daily Bulletin”, he had other Press interests as well as that of the Stock Exchange. When business expansion took Mr. Brown to London in 1863 he became a member of the Savage Club, and it is to this body that the origins of the Burns Club of London can be traced. Mr. Brown appears to have had substantial means to enable him to maintain places of residence at Oakleigh Park in Whetstone, Kensington, and Scotland.

he Inaugural Dinner of the Burns Club was held at Hallowe’en 1868 in the old Bedford Head Tavern, Maiden Lane, Covent Garden and among those present were the Irish poet Samuel Lover, Peter Cunningham - son of the “pawkie Alan” who was Burns’ neighbour at Ellisland, the dramatist Blanchard Jerrold, James Lowe - the editor of the “Critic”, Dr. Charles Mackay, George Cruickshank and MacRae Moir. Charles Mackay who was born in Perth and educated in the Caledonian Asylum (now the Royal Caledonian Schools) was a journalist, Times correspondent in the American Civil War, editor of the “Glasgow Argus”, poet, novelist, patriot, even a writer of popular songs. Only the first lines seem to have survived, but his “There’s a good time coming”, when set to music, sold 400,000 copies - surely quite a performance for his day and generation. George Cruickshank was the famous illustrator of Dickens, and his cartoons were aimed equally against all political parties. Some of his paintings are in the National Gallery. Perhaps most remarkable in a Burns Club, his cartoons, directed against the evils of drink, were most powerful in a series of drawings entitled “The Bottle and a Sequel”, and “The Drunkard’s Child”. He was a very competent amateur actor, got “feckless fou” on water, and entertained with great histrionic ability at meetings of the Club. His star performance was reserved for “Willie brewed a peck o’ maut”, which had to be repeated again and again.

The first twelve January celebrations were held at the home of Mr. Colin Rae Brown who presided and proposed the Burns Toast with great eloquence year after year. He even contributed a sentiment in verse which ran to fifty five stanzas ending:

Hark! Like a sea of sound it rolls,
Nor leaves a void between the poles, -
One vast acclaim! Hands, hearts, and souls,
For Robert Burns!

By 1880 the numbers wishing to participate in the celebrations had become so great that it overran the capacity of even Colin Rae Brown’s house and it was decided to extend the scope of the Club to all who owned to enthusiasm for Burns. It is interesting that no question of nationality or sex was mentioned; and the first honorary member was Garibaldi, the great Italian liberator, indeed the founder of modern Italy. He accepted honorary membership with ‘ humility’ and ‘great pride’. Two Scots, William Wallace and Robert Burns, had often inspired him and their portraits hung by his bedside.

The objects of the wider and more public association inaugurated on Monday 26th January 1880 at the residence of Mr. Colin Rae Brown were:

(a) The Annual Celebration of the birthday of Robert Burns.
(b) Occasional Re-unions for the Cultivation of Social Intercourse amongst the members.
(c) The Encouragement of (Scottish) Literature and Music.

Without reference to Nationality, all admirers of the genius of Robert Burns and of the principles enunciated in “A man’s a man for a’ that” are eligible for admission to the Club.

The Club already numbered more than seventy ladies and gentlemen and they elected as President, Charles Mackay, Esq., LL.D., of Ferndell, Boxhill, Surrey, and as Honorary Secretary, Colin Rae Brown. The subscription was fixed at half a guinea but after the first hundred members had been enrolled an entrance fee was to be added. This is of interest to present day members whose annual subscription is a very modest ten shillings. We have in our records press cuttings reporting the event in the Daily News, Echo, Sussex Advertiser, Paisley Herald, Literary World and Ayr Advertiser.

As to the 1881 celebrations which were held in the St. James’ Hall, the report in the “Paisley Herald” had this to say - “the London Club, comprising statesmen, poets, artists, philosophers and looming statesmen, differs a little from sober Scottish clubs. To begin with a difference, it may be mentioned en passant, that when on that evening the Paisley Burns Club had eaten, and orthodoxically washed down the excellent dinner supplied by ‘mine host’ of the Globe Hotel, and as the ten o’clock bell was ringing, like douce elders as the chairman and others were, they were thinking of going home, the London Burns Club was just gathering. ‘We assembled at 10 p.m. to the extent of about a hundred and danced till 12.30 a.m’, writes one who was there. Then a concert took place, which lasted three-quarters of an hour, and at 1.15 ‘we sat down to a most recherché supper, at which Colin Rae Brown presided and gave the ‘Memory of Burns’ with ‘a the honours three’ and with all his usual eloquence.’ Dancing was resumed after supper, and kept up to 4.30, a fine instrumental band giving ‘go’ to the ‘flying feet’, likewise the novel addition of a ‘kettle drum’. It needs not the remark that female suffrage obtains in southern Burns Clubs.”

The celebration in the following year was reported in the “Morning Post”, “North British Daily Mail”, “Kensington News”, “Glasgow Herald”, “Kilmarnock Standard”, “Ardrossan Herald”, and “Greenock Advertiser”, and mentions Colin Rae Brown in the chair and presenting for the occasion a new piece, “The Land o’ Burns”, set to music by Mr. W.G. Wood of the Royal Academy of Music. Sung by Mr. Albert McGuckin, it evoked much enthusiasm, from the assembly. The 1883 and 1884 celebrations were in the usual vein with, inevitably, Colin Rae Brown in the chair and proposing the main toast. Perhaps of special interest was a telegram from the Kilmarnock Club on 26th January 1884 giving the complete last stanza of “Willie Brewed a peck o’ maut” and finishing with the injunction “Meet us in Williamson’s Hotel in Bow Lane tomorrow at noon” - a total of fifty five words contradicts the alleged native meanness of Scots on festive occasions.

The venue for 1885 had changed to the Marlborough Rooms but chairman and principal speaker was once again the same. Present on this occasion was Mr. John Gordon Crawford, who had presented at his own expense the Burns Statue in the Embankment Gardens, Charing Cross. The chairman further reported that “the studio of the venerable sculptor Sir John Steell, R.S.A., is again about to give forth a splendid triumph of his chisel in the form of a marble bust of Burns, which will be placed in Westminster Abbey early in March as a result of ‘shillings’ collected by Preceptor Wilson of Glasgow”. Of the after-dinner entertainment one report reads thus “The evening’s enjoyment was greatly added to by the exquisite vocalisation of Miss Liddell, and the finished and powerful instrumentation of the Misses Molyneux on the piano and violin”. What reaction this comment produced on the ladies concerned is not known but at least they are not less peculiarly reported than the gentleman who rendered “Tam o’ Shanter” and “The Haggis” with “extreme unction”. Language changes and words assume different meanings as the years pass. The Club kept its activities going throughout the year with balls, smokers, assemblies and - about Bannockburn day - summer picnics. The earliest of these seems to have been held in Epping Forest but later a change was made to Virginia Water when the proprietor of the Wheatsheaf Hotel agreed to provide the Club with a first-class dinner and tea at a charge of 4/- a head and to provide suitable vehicles to carry members and their friends from the station to the hotel for sixpence each way. First-class accommodation was reserved on the train and the inclusive ticket cost 10/6d which gave travel, dinner, tea, dancing and band but not, of course, the aforementioned sixpence from station to hotel. A hundred members and friends attended and “a splendid array of drags was afterwards called into requisition, and conveyed the party through the sylvan glades of the world-famed forest”.

On 7th March 1885 a bust of Burns was unveiled in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey by the Rt. Hon. The Earl of Rosebery in the presence of Clergymen, Members of Parliament, a deputation from Kilmarnock led by Provost Sturrock, two representatives from Glasgow, and Colin Rae Brown (President), J.C. Ánderson (Treasurer) and J.S. Robertson (Secretary) of the London Robert Burns Club. The Earl of Rosebery who had left a Cabinet meeting to attend, in a happy speech concluded - “As regards the trustees of the national temple of fame, the spontaneous welcome which they have accorded to the effigy of Burns nearly a century after his death seems to me to represent not the partiality of friends or the enthusiasm of devotees, but the voice and judgement of posterity”.

In the evening the London Scots fraternised with the deputations from Glasgow and Kilmarnock in Anderston’s Hotel, Fleet Street with toasts innumerable; at this gathering “Mr. James E. Christie recited ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ and Mr. David Sneddon ‘The Haggis’, both being given with great eloquence and extreme unction, eliciting such applause as is rarely given voice to in Fleet Street”. Although now celebrating its centenary the Burns Club of London is far from being the first society formed to perpetuate the memory of the poet and it is therefore not surprising to learn that a suggestion to form a Federation embracing all these clubs should be mooted. Nor can it be considered surprising that the idea should originate in the mind of Colin Rae Brown who first made the suggestion to Provost David Mackay and Captain David Sneddon of Kilmarnock in 1880 when they were seeking a site for the Burns Statue on the Thames Embankment. In the course of further discussions in London in 1885 with the three representatives from Kilmarnock who had attended the ceremony in Westminster Abbey, the opinion was formed that such a federation should be launched in time for the centenary, the following year, of the publication in 1786 of the Kilmarnock edition of the Poet’s works. As a result the Burns Federation was founded at a meeting in Kilmarnock on 17th July 1885, Colin Rae Brown and John Gordon Crawford (donor of the Thames Embankment Statue) being among the six Vice-Presidents appointed.

In the discussions leading to the formation of the federation there had been a strong disagreement between Colin Rae Brown and Provost Mackay - who were otherwise the best of friends - as to which club should be No. 1 on the roll of the new federation. Colin Rae Brown claimed that the honour should go to London where the idea had originated while Provost Mackay held the view that his club should be No. 1 on the role because of the town’s association with the poet. Captain Sneddon intervened in the argument and persuaded Provost Mackay to let Colin Rae Brown have his wish. When, however, Captain Sneddon, as first Honorary Secretary of the Federation, was called upon to read the roll of Clubs wishing to join the Federation, it was found that, while he had allocated No 1 on the roll to the London Burns Club, he had allocated No. 0 to Kilmarnock and these numbers remain to this day.

It is disconcerting to read in the Club’s minute book that a proposal to wind up the Club was submitted to a Committee meeting held on 4th March 1887. No clue is forthcoming as to the reason for such a suggestion though it may be deduced that the method by which the Club was administered was at the bottom of the trouble, for the minutes of the September meeting disclose a further discussion with reference to holding a general meeting of the members for the purpose of learning their views as to reconstituting the Club to give the members a voice in the management and annual election of officers. Colin Rae Brown appears to have resisted this innovation but the majority of the Committee were in favour of a change and a general meeting of the members adopted a new set of rules on 20th December 1887. Thereafter Mr. Brown demitted office as President and was succeeded by Mr. Wm. McCulloch.

In spite of the change, “The Scotsman” of 28th January 1888 reporting on the Festival Dinner mentions Colin Rae Brown as once again proposing “The Immortal Memory”. Tickets were priced at 10/6d and 150 Ladies and gentlemen were present at the function which closed at 3 a.m. There seems to have been a rival Burns celebration held concurrently in the Holborn Restaurant with an attendance of 60 guests under the chairmanship of Mr. J. Cunningham.

Following the Annual General Meeting of 1893 Colin Rae Brown was elected President once again and inevitably proposed “The Immortal Memory” and again at Hallowe’en he was in the chair and, replying to the toast of the Club, gave a report of its foundation and added a note of sadness by announcing that the founders had now all gone save himself.

It is interesting to note that the ladies appear periodically to have incurred the disfavour of their worthy spouses and were excluded, only to reappear again, as they did at the dinner of 1895 when a poem was dedicated to the London Burns Club by its author, Eric Mackay, son of the beloved Dr. Charles and step-brother of Marie Correlli, many of whose novels figured on the bookshelves in the early part of this century.

In August 1897 the Secretary reported of the grave illness of Colin Rae Brown and the November minute mentioned his funeral at which the Club was strongly represented. The reply from Mrs. Brown to the President’s letter of condolence was inserted in the Minute Book.

Mindful of their less fortunate kinsfolk the Annual General Meeting of 1897 agreed to the suggestion of Dr. Leslie Ogilvie that a Benevolent Fund should be established. The first distribution from the fund was made on 19th May 1898 when a Special General Meeting of the members decided that (1) a donation of ten guineas be made to the Scottish Corporation, (2) a donation of ten guineas be made to the Caledonian Asylum, and (3) that a prize of ten guineas be offered to students at the Royal Academy of Music for the best original musical score set to one of Burns poems which had never previously been set to music. The Royal Scottish Corporation, dating from 1665, still maintains its benevolent work among elderly Scots pensioners and the Caledonian Asylum continues today as the Royal Caledonian Schools with headquarters at Bushey, Hertfordshire, where it houses some 120 children. These two charities were still the main beneficiaries of the Club’s donations in the centenary year. The ten guinea prize for the musical competition was duly awarded but, alas, there is no record of the winner’s name nor is a copy of the musical score available.

At this time the club sent a letter of sympathy to the family of W.E. Gladstone expressing the members’ “admiration of the deceased’s great qualities as a man of literary ability and as an apostle of liberty”. A letter of thanks was received from Hawarden Castle, Chester signed by Henry N. Gladstone.

The Club continued its social functions including the holding of a Fancy Dress Ball in 1899 and, to replace the picnic, a summer dinner at the Star and Garter, Richmond.

As might be expected, national events did not always find a place in the Club’s records but there are indirect references to the South African War, with its initial unexpected reverses to the British Forces. At the Festival Dinner in 1900 the sum of £25 was collected for the Daily Telegraph Soldiers’ Widows and Orphans Fund while the Benevolent Fund allocated 10 guineas to the Lord Mayor’s Soldiers’ Widows and Orphans Fund and a further 15 guineas to the Daily Telegraph Fund. Another national event, even more closely linked with the populace was the death in January 1901 of Queen Victoria after her long reign lasting 64 years. Not surprisingly the Club’s Festival arranged for that month and the Ordinary Assemblies arranged for February and March were cancelled.

In the wet summer of 1903 the annual picnic was postponed for a month because the heavy rains had so swollen the River Thames that it was impossible for the launch engaged to get upstream. Later that year the Committee authorised the expenditure of £20 on a badge to be used by the President of the Club for the time being and on 29th October Mr. J.C. Brown was invested with the new badge. The outbreak of the First World War caused a hasty cancellation of elaborate plans to hold the Annual Conference of the Burns Federation in London in the autumn of 1914 and imposed unusual problems on the Club. While some members wished to abandon all Club activity for the duration, other counsels prevailed and the Club arranged a modified programme of activities, making a particularly large effort to entertain troops stationed in London, especially those of Scottish origin, Concerts, suppers and garden parties were arranged for as many as two hundred Scots Guards, some of which had to begin at the unusual hour of 5.30 p.m. to allow the troops to be in barracks by 8.30 p.m. in accordance with a War Office edict of the time. Frequent mention is made about this time of a Burns Club at Ruhleben Internment Camp near Berlin where internees included some civilian friends of the Club who had been unable to get out of Germany at the outbreak of war. Numerous discussions went on concerning ways and means of sending them haggis and suitable libation to wash it down. One of the members, son of Mr. L. G. Sloan, died in internment in 1918.

On 28th June 1918 the Club gave a luncheon at the Café Monaco to welcome home one of its most distinguished members, Sir Harry Lauder, after a charity tour of Canada and the U.S.A. which raised 130,000 dollars. The main toast was proposed by the Rt. Hon. Ian Macpherson, M.P. (Lord Strathcarron), Under-Secretary of State for War.

In January 1919 the first post-war Birthday Festival was a tremendous affair if the toast list is any indication. Proposing the Club was the Rt. Hon. Robert Munro, K.C., M.P., (later Lord Alness), Secretary of State for Scotland. The British imperial Forces were toasted by the Rt. Hon. Lord Morris, K.C., LL.D., K.C.M.G., and responding to the toast were Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, G.C.B., C.M.G., M.N.V.O., First Sea Lord, Major-General Sir Newton Moore, M.P., K.C.M.G., Major the Rev. Charles W. Gordon (“Ralph Connor”) and Captain Bruce Bairnsfather (creator of “Old Bill”). The Immortal memory was proposed by General Sir Ian Hamilton, G.C.B., D.S.O., A.D.C., and finally Scottish Literature was proposed by John Murray, C.V.O., D.L., F.S.A., to which Lieut-Col. John Buchan and Lieut-Col. E.A. Ewart (“Boyd Cable”) replied.

The Hallowe’en Concert run by the Club in 1919 was such a great success that a cheque for £223 was sent to the London Scottish Regiment Memorial Fund. September 1920 saw the Club as hosts to the Burns Federation when the delegates were sumptuously entertained by the President, Mr. L.G. Sloan, in the historical hall of the Vintner’s Company, each guest receiving as a memento a beautiful fountain pen. The business meeting on the Saturday morning in the hall of the Royal Scottish Corporation was followed by lunch at Alderton’s Hotel, Fleet Street, again provided by the President. At two o’clock the party of over a hundred visited the Royal Caledonian Schools at Bushey where a collection at tea produced over £50 for the Schools. In addition Mr. Sloan presented to the Federation a cheque for £100 and an equal sum to the Schools as a souvenir of the Federation’s visit. Hallowe’en 1917 had seen the installation as President of the other great father-figure of the Club, Mr. William Will, who continued as a member into living memory and gave a very interesting talk to the Club at the age of eighty-nine, as recently as 1956, by which time he had been elected Honorary President of the Club as a token of thanks and admiration for his life time of enthusiastic service. A very excellent portrait of him is hung in the Council Chamber at the Royal Scottish Corporation. The minutes of 1st March 1920 record that Mr. William Will, then in his last year as President, proposed that a Scots Vernacular Circle be formed in connection with the Club. The motion was unanimously agreed to and it was arranged that Mr. Will should send out a circular letter to the members asking their views on the matter, in the hope that everything would be in order to commence operations at the Annual General Meeting. On 7th June 1920 the members of the Club unanimously approved the formation of the Vernacular Circle and the inaugural meeting was held in the hall of the Royal Scottish Corporation on 22nd November 1920 when Colonel Sir James Cantlie, K.B.E. presided over about 80 members and friends. Mr. Will read a paper on the Vernacular Language of Scotland in which its history was traced, and its strength, beauty and effectiveness discussed. Thus was the Circle well and truly launched and great things followed. W.A. Craigie, M.A., LL.D., Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, delivered a lecture on “The Present State of the Scottish Tongue”. And then on 7th February 1921 Colonel John Buchan gave an address on “Some Scottish Characteristics”.

Already the Circle had stirred enthusiasts to the point of presenting prizes.Sir William Noble offered Aberdeen Education Authority a prize for the recitation and composition of works in Scots and endowed a £10 prize for Aberdeen University for a poem in the Vernacular. Mr. L.G. Sloan gave £500 - £250 to found a prize at St. Andrews University and £250 for a similar prize at Edinburgh University, while Colonel Walter Scott of New York sent 1000 dollars for a prize at Glasgow University. By this time Vernacular enthusiasm knew no bounds and Mr. Will was authorised to circularise all Scottish organisations throughout the world in support of the movement, while Professor Craigie in the course of a world tour addressed Scottish gatherings on behalf of the movement for the preservation of the language. The Club at this time, as in earlier years, was fortunate in having influential contacts with the Press and Printing world so that it was possible for Mr. L.G. Sloan to offer once again to print and circulate the speeches of the Festival Dinner, while Mr. William Will designed and presented to the Club a new and most artistic letter heading which remained in use for some fifty years thereafter.

In 1901 there had been formed in London another Burns Club, named the London Burns Club (Scots), the membership of which was restricted to gentlemen of Scottish Nationality by direct male descent. From 1910 onwards many attempts had been made to amalgamate the two clubs including particularly strong one in 1917, when Sir Harry Lauder added his voice to the call for unity and presided over a meeting attended by six representatives from each club. All these attempts failed on the same question - the nationality of the members. Success was finally achieved in 1921 when it was agreed that the name of the united club should be “The Burns Club of London” (Incorporating the London Robert Burns Club, No. 1, and the Burns Club (Scots)), and that as regard nationality the rule of the London Robert Burns Club was to be accepted - membership open to all admirers of the poetry and genius of Robert Burns, without reference to nationality.

The formation of the Vernacular Circle in London had inspired clubs in Scotland to follow suit and the Burns Federation was persuaded to take a greater interest in the study and use of the Scottish Vernacular and in offering prizes for competitions held in the schools. William Will could ultimately claim that the Scottish Education Department had been induced to include one question on vernacular literature in the English paper of the Scottish Higher Leaving Certificate. Sad to relate, there were periods when no entries were received for the University prizes and on at least one occasion Professor Herbert Grierson of Edinburgh reported that none of the entries was worthy of a prize. Meanwhile the London Vernacular Circle, now strengthened by the merger of the two former clubs, continued to flourish and published in book form four of the early lectures. The social circle of whist drives, balls, conversaziones, fancy dress balls and picnics have all gone but the Vernacular Circle, meeting on the second Monday of each month in the winter, remains the vital element. It would be well to remember Mr. Will’s principal object - the consideration and adoption of methods for the preservation of the oral and literary language of Lowland Scotland.

After a lapse of thirteen years the Burns Federation again held its conference in London in 1933 when all expenses were met by Sir Alexander Gibb, G.B.E., C.B., LL.D., who was at that time completing his third year of office as President of the Federation.

Burns enthusiasts can be found in all walks of life and such was the good feeling engendered during Lord Alness’ presidency in 1938-39 that one member was inspired to write a poem which in metre and phrase must have reminded his Lordship of the paraphrases and metrical psalms on which he was reared in the Free Church manse in Alness. Its literary merits may not be of a high order but for the record it is here included:-

A Scottish Bard - whose trade, alas
Has gone from bad to worse -
Presumes to send your Lordship, now,
A sample of his verse.
A most propitious time has come
To thank you (not the last)
For your good work, so well performed
The year has gone too fast.
Ay’ happy times we had while you
O’er meetings did preside
Your kindly thought, and counsel, wise
Did all proceedings guide.
Your lofty precepts made us keen
To spread the social flame
And illustrate - like Burns himself -
The pride of race and name.
You met us all on equal terms
With candour and with charm
We loved your jurisprudent smile
and monumental calm.
In future years your great record
Will shine without alloy,
And pure affection always shall
Diffuse our minds with joy.
The dearest wish of members a’
Be pleased to comprehend
And more! Th’ appraisement of the Lord
Support you to the end.

John Robson Watson.
By appointment: Bard to the 22nd Chief of The Scottish
Clans Association of London and member of Council of
The Burns Club of London.

The outbreak of war in 1939 with the blackout, the dispersal of members into different parts of the country and others into the services, led to the suspension of meetings for some time. However, in conjunction with other Scottish Societies, much good work was done in providing entertainment for allied troops in London, in which Mr. George S. Bonnyman, M.B.E., (President 1939-45), and other members of the club were prominent. From 1942 onwards, members were able to reunite each July at a Garden Party in the pleasant surroundings of New Lodge, Hyde Park, through the kindness of Mr. Duncan M. Campbell, M.B.E., (President 1946-47). Some eight years were to elapse before full activities could be resumed and the Club was indebted at this difficult period to Mr. Donald Munro for his unremitting service over a period of sixteen years first as Honorary Treasurer and later as Honorary Secretary, while Mr. Alexander Campbell (President 1948-49), did outstanding work in the immediate post war years in restarting the work of the Vernacular Circle virtually from scratch.

Since the end of the war most of the Presidents and Office Bearers are personally recollected by many of our present members. All of them were part of a long sequence of men of differing capabilities yet having the common zeal to perpetuate the memory of Burns as exemplified in the proceedings of the Burns Club of London. Some of course, were more outstanding, such as the pawky Aberdonian William Dalgarno whose wit and humour enlivened his addresses; Mr. John Wilson, to whom came the idea of the William Will Memorial Lecture, to which we invite annually a prominent figure from a wider sphere to join us and other Scottish Societies in honour of the founder of the Vernacular Circle; and Mr. James Aitken, surely the most eloquent of our Burns speakers, who carried the name of our Club far and wide, from Scotland to Copenhagen, in proposing “The Immortal Memory” on over sixty occasions. After his death in December 1964, the collection of Burns books which he had gathered over the years was handed over by his daughter, Mrs. Blythe, to the Club to form the nucleus of a library.

In 1959 the bicentenary celebrations of the Poet’s birth were a great success under the Presidency of the genial Alexander J. Morison and as a highlight resulted in an attendance of 502 guests at the Festival Dinner held in the Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly Circus. On that occasion the Very Rev. R.F.V. Scott, D.D., of St. Columba’s Church of Scotland proposed ”The Immortal memory”. Replying to the toast of “The Lassies”, Miss Lavinia Derwent, originator of the humorous series “Tammy Troot” in the Glasgow “Bulletin” newspaper began her address to the menfolk in these lines:-

Wee sleeket, cowrin’ tim’rous beasties,
Wi’ duodenals in your breasties!

As part of these celebrations a short service, conducted by the Very Rev. Alan C. Don, K.C.V.O., M.A., D.D., Dean of Westminster, was held in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey adjacent to the bust of Burns, and, a special bicentenary lecture was delivered by David Daiches, M.A., D.Phil., Ph.D., Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge in the hall of the Royal Scottish Corporation to a large audience, the members of the Club being joined by members of other Scottish Societies. All lectures delivered to the Vernacular Circle during the session were on some aspect of Burns. In the following session, 1959-60, but still considered part of the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Poet’s birth, there was a large congregation at Crown Court Church of Scotland, Covent Garden, at the morning service on Sunday 24th January 1960 when a memorial window was unveiled by the President, Mr. John Sinclair, M.A., and dedicated by the Minister, the Rev. Joseph Moffett, O.B.E., D.D. The proceedings were duly recorded in the magazine of the Church, from which the following:-


There was a large congregation at the Morning Service on Sunday 24th January, when the memorial window, commemorating the bi-centenary of the Poet’s birth, was unveiled and dedicated. Much interest in the event was shown by the press and by the public, and photos of the window appeared in the leading newspapers.

The Service, which was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Moffett, included the Psalms 100 and 51, Paraphrases 30 and 66, and Hymn 633, “Lord, while for all mankind we pray”. The Lessons, which were read by Mr. John Sinclair, President of the Burns Club of London were Ezekiel; XXXVII, 1-14, and I Corinthians XII.

After the Offering had been received, Dr. Moffett, accompanied by Mr. Sinclair and by Messrs. R.A. Watson, J. Wilson and V.J. Eddie, representing the Kirk Session, proceeded to the window. Mr. Sinclair unveiled the Memorial and asked Dr. Moffett to accept it. Dr Moffett responded on behalf of the Kirk Session and then dedicated the Memorial in the following prayer:

“O God, our heavenly Father, from whom commeth every good and perfect gift, who does inspire Prophets and Poets, bestowing upon them special gifts of vision and genius for the edification and enlightenment of Thy people, we thank Thee for Thy servant Robert Burns and for those gifts of poetry and of song with which Thou didst inspire him, whereby the hearts of common men and women have been cheered and uplifted. “We thank Thee for his spirit of sturdy independence, his patriotic fervour, his wide human sympathy with all Thy creatures, and his vision of a world freed from the oppressions of cruel men. Help us to guard and to preserve the heritage he bequeathed to us, and to make real the vision he beheld afar off.

“Accept, O Lord, we humbly beseech Thee, this memorial which now we dedicate to his memory, to the Adornment of this Thine House, and to the Glory of They Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” The Service concluded with the singing of Paraphrase 66 and the Blessing.

The Poet is depicted in the window as ploughman, ruefully fontemplating the destruction of the nest of a field-mouse by his plough, holding in his hand the “Wee, sleeket, cowrin’ tim’rous beastie” - the incident which inspired his well-known poem “To a Mouse”, and which, perhaps better than any other, reveals the Poet’s sympathy with all God’s creatures, most of all the weak and the defenceless. The window of stained glass shows the Poet in farmer’s dress standing against a background of Ayrshire countryside. The inscription on the glass is as follows:-

To the Glory of God and in commemoration of the bicentenary of the Poet’s birth 25th January 1759-1959, this window was given by the Burns Club of London.

The window is given to Crown Court Church of Scotland by the Burns Club of London from special subscriptions raised by its members to mark the bi-centenary of the Poet’s birth in gratitude to God for the finest inspirations of Robert Burns and with a deep sense of the Club’s long association with the Church.

The work was carried out by Mr. M.C. Farrer Bell, F.B.S., M.G.P., F.R.S.A., of the firms Messrs. Clayton and Bell.”

Perhaps this would be an appropriate place to pay tribute to Mr. John Sinclair whose painstaking researches into the Club’s archives have made possible the preparation of this historical record of the Club’s first hundred years. His diligent labours in sifting the wheat from the chaff, deserves the sincere thanks of all the Club’s members.

In September 1964 the Burns Federation once more chose London as the venue of its Annual Conference. Having had a year’s notice from the previous conference at Stirling, a Conference Committee was appointed consisting of Mr. James Aitken, (Convenor), Archd. F. Robertson (Secretary), John Russell (Treasurer), Alex. J. Morison, W.A.D. Neish and R. Walker Thomson. The officials of the Burns Federation made their headquarters at the Strand Palace Hotel, but the Reception on the Friday evening, the business meeting on the Saturday morning and the Saturday evening concert were held in the Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly Circus. On the Saturday morning a wreath was laid at the Burns Statue in the Embankment Gardens, Charing Cross, and on the Sunday morning Divine Service was held in St. Columba’s Church of Scotland. An outing by road to Windsor on the Sunday afternoon brought the conference to a close.

From then onwards much attention was given to the organisation of the events of the centenary year, full details of which are appended.

And so ends the story, fragmentary though it may be, of the past one hundred years of the Club. Something has been captured of the deeds of the men who first set it in being and of those who followed, determined to preserve the traditions of a London Society that delighted in the works of Scotland’s poet. By its nature, most of the record has had to be factual, as it is difficult to convey at this late stage the aspirations and inspiration of all those who have guided its destiny during those long and fateful years, a period in which great material and spiritual changes have taken place. The welfare state, begun so modestly, has blossomed until the whole of the population is involved; and while poverty may not have been eliminated completely, the common standard of living has been greatly improved.

Great technological advances have been made; radio and television communications are commonplace; outer space has been explored; steam locomotives, once the pride of railway enthusiasts, are no more; aeroplanes have been invented and soon will be able, a la Concorde, of a speed of 1,300 miles per hour; medical science has brought great benefit to mankind. Change is all around; financial and economic problems beset the country. Soon the long established British monetary system will be decimalised and our weights and measures replaced by foreign names.

Yet through it all in its own modest way the Burns Club of London will continue to function bringing together in a friendly atmosphere and happy surroundings those folk who write their hopes with those of Burns:-

“That Man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”


1868-80 Colin Rae Brown
1880-84 Dr. Charles Mackay, LL.D.
1885-87 Colin Rae Brown
1888- William McCulloch
1889 Andrew G. Soutter
1890-91 James Buchanan
1892 Robert Macpherson
1893 James Young
1894 Colin Rae Brown
1895 Dr. D. Menzies
1896 Philip E. Clunn
1897 A. Macnaughton
1898 Dr. Leslie Ogilvie
1899 Deputy W. Hayward Pitman, J.P., C.C.,
1900 Daniel Duff
1901 Andrew G. Soutter
1902 Dr. John Richmond Bryce
1903 J. Clifford Brown
1904 Alexander McKillican
1905 Charles J. Wilkinson-Pimbury, C.C.
1906 John Page
1907 Dr. James M. McCall
1908 Alexander Stephen
1909 Henry Durham, F.C.S.
1910 James Thomson, F.S.A. Scot.
1910-11 Neil Turner
1911-12 G. St. John McDonald, F.R.G.S.,
1912-13 Charles W. Richards
1913-14 Deputy W. Hayward Pitman, J.P., C.C.
1914-17 J. Garioch Whyte
1917-20 William Will, C.B.E.
1920-21 L.G. Sloan, J.P.
1921-22 Sir William Noble
1922-23 P.N. McFarlane, F.R.S.E.
1923-24 John Douglas, F.S.A. Scot
1924-25 John A. Brown, C.E.
1925-26 A. Bain Irvine, J.P., F.R.G.S.,
1926-27 Dr. J.M. Bulloch, M.A., LL.D.
1927-28 Sir Robert Blair, M.A., B.Sc., LL.D
1928-29 Sir Alexander Gibb, G.B.E., C.B., LL.D.
1929-30 John A. Anderson
1930-32 John B. Rintoul
1932-33 John McLaren, M.I.M.E.
1933-34 Dr. H.J. Neilson, C.B.E.
1934-35 Sir J. Douglas Ritchie, M.C.
1935-36 William S. Cobb, M.I.Mar.E.
1936-37 John M. Swan
1937-38 James Abernethy
1938-39 Lord Alness
1939-44 George S. Bonnyman, M.B.E.
1944-46 John Cormack
1946-47 Duncan M. Campbell, M.B.E.
1947-48 Rev. R.S. Birch, M.A., Ph.D.
1948-49 Alexander Campbell
1949-50 William Dalgarno
1950-51 Sir T. Drummond Shiels, M.C.
1951-52 Duncan Munro Young
1952-53 James R. Crawford, F.S.A.Scot.
1953-54 James Aitken
1954-55 William G. Gray
1955-56 David Fulton
1956-57 William Douglas
957-58 John Wilson, M.A.
1958-59 Alexander J. Morrison
1959-60 John Sinclair, M.A.
1960-61 John Russell
1961-62 William A.D. Neish
1962-63 William Barclay
1963-64 Archd. F. Robertson, C.A.
1964-65 R. Walker Thomson
1965-66 Alastair A.M. Fisher
1966-67 Alexander G. Hutton
1967-68 John A. Brooks
1968-69 James Mason
1969-70 William B. Champion


1880-82 Allan C. Wylie
1883 James E. Christie
1884-85 John C. Anderson
1886 Charles Robinson
1887-88 E. Waller
1889-91 R.L. Adamson
1892-93 James Hemp-Hill
1894 A. McKillican
1895-1908 W.C. Daniels
1909-20 Charles J. Wilkinson-Pimbury, CC.
1920-23 J. Spence Leslie
1923-24 James Whyte
1924-26 J. Gardner Binks
1926-28 J.M.S. Lambie
1928-35 William H. Harries, F.C.I.S.
1935-36 Duncan Munro Young
1936-46 Donald Munro
1946-50 Ian B. White
1950-55 Archd. F. Robertson, C.A.
1955-62 Walter Johnstone
1962-67 William A. Crichton
1967- Barrie O Thomson


1880-82 Robert Crawford
1883-85 James S. Robertson
1886 Charles Robinson
1887-91 R.L. Adamson
1892-93 James Hemp-Hill
1894 A. McKillican
1895-1908 W. C. Daniels
1909 James Thomson
1910 Henry Durham, F.C.S.
1911-16 James Thomson
1916-21 P.N. McFarlane, F.R.S.E.
1921-23 John A. Brown, C.E.
1923-26 W. Lambie Templeton
1926 William A. Love
1927-39 John A. Brown, C.E.
1939-46 J. Gibb Blair, C.A.
1946-52 Donald Munro
1952-55 John Russell
1955-62 Archd. F. Robertson, C.A.
1962-64 James Kennedy, A.A.C.C.A
1964-68 James Mason
1968- Alexander Pow


To complete the history of the Club and bring it up to date, it has been considered appropriate to include references to the various functions which took place during the centenary year 1968-1969 under the Presidency of Mr. James Mason.

Herewith is a facsimile of the outside of the Club’s 1968-1969 syllabus giving a list of the office bearers who helped to arrange and manage all the functions. All the Past Presidents, apart from Sir J.D. Ritchie, Mr. Alexander Campbell and Mr. W.W. Barclay who had moved away from London, played a part and helped considerably with their knowledge and experience of the Club’s affairs.

Piccadilly Hotel, W1.
Saturday 2nd November 1968


After the guests, numbering about 300, had assembled at the tables the President’s party was piped to the top table to the tune “A Man’s a Man for a’ that” by Mr. John Campbell of the Romford Scottish Association in the following order:

The President and Mrs. Mason
The Earl and Countess of Kinnoull
Mr. Robert Donaldson, President of the Burns Federation, and Mrs Donaldson.
Mr. W.B. Champion, Vice-President of the Club, and Mrs. Champion.
Mr. George Vallance, Past President of the Burns Federation and Mrs. Vallance.

En route, the party passed between two lines formed by Past Presidents of the Club, and their ladies, assembled in order of their year of office the most recent being at the head of the line.

Before the company was seated, the President said Grace, using the words of the Poet beginning -

“O Thou, who kindly dost provide
For ev’ry creature’s want!”

The ceremony of Addressing the Haggis followed the traditional lines, with the procession of the piper, the chef with the haggis on a platter, and a waiter carrying two bottles of whisky, marching round the hall before reaching a table on the platform, where Mr. W.B. Champion recited the “Address to the Haggis”, A silent toast was drunk by the President, the Vice-president, the Piper and the chef, after which the haggis was returned to the kitchen.

Prior to the Loyal Toast and the singing of the National Anthem, the President read the following telegram received from Buckingham Palace in reply to one sent by the Club:

“I have received the Queen’s command to express Her Majesty’s sincere thanks to the officers and members of the Burns Club of London dining together this evening for their kind message of loyal greetings and to wish the Club a very happy centenary celebration - Private Secretary”

The President now welcomed members and their friends, and the Club’s official guests to the Centenary Dinner, a most notable event in the history of the Club; he spoke of his pride in being President in this historic year, and expressed the hope that the Club’s affairs would continue to go from strength to strength in the happy atmosphere which characterised all its activities.

The important part played by our founder members in establishing the Burns Federation was stressed by the President in introducing Mr. Robert Donaldson, President of the Burns Federation and Honorary Secretary of the Bridgeton Burns Club, Glasgow, who proposed the toast of the evening, “The Burns Club of London”. Mr. Donaldson brought greetings from the Federation, of which he had been appointed President at the Conference in Falkirk two months earlier, and from his own Club.

After Mr. Hamish MacMillan had sung “Scots wha hae”, the President responded to the toast, and thanked Mr. Donaldson.

The Toastmaster, Mr. Alec Pow, Honorary Secretary of the Club, read greetings telegrams and cards from the Burns Federation; Scottish Society and Burns Club of Australia; Great Britain Society of Leningrad University, the Burns Clubs of Ayr, Aberdeen, Arbroath, Belfast, Bridgeton, Dumfries, Greenock, Kilmarnock and Symington; Harrow & District Caledonian Society; London Ayrshire Society; Amersham & District Caledonian Society.

The Immediate Past President, John A. Brooks, proposed the toast “Our Guests”, to which the Earl of Kinnoull replied.

During the evening the musical programme was sustained by Mr. Ian MacFadyen, Mr. Joe Beachus and Mr. Hamish MacMillan, all of the Royal Opera Company, Covent Garden, accompanied at the piano by  Mr. J.M. Wallace. After Past President Alex J. Morrison had voiced the thanks of all present to everyone who had contributed to the success of the function the proceedings came to a close with the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”.

The souvenir programme received by each guest contained an abbreviated version of the short history of the Club, compiled by Past President John Sinclair, and a list of Presidents of the Club from its foundation.

The social success of the evening, which was greatly enjoyed by all, and which formed a fitting tribute to those who had built up the traditions of the Club, was in a large measure due to the efforts over several months of the organising committee, consisting of The President, James Mason; Vice-President, Wm. B. Champion; Past Presidents W.A.D. Neish and J.A. Brooks; Honorary Treasurer, Barrie O. Thomson; Honorary Secretary Alec A. Pow; and Honorary Assistant Secretary, Stuart McHardy.

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